The focus group gathered in my living room to watch the highly publicized, on-again, off-again, debate between GOP Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain and Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama had one clear outcome; if anyone is going to ever be excited about this race again, it is up to Sarah Palin to ratchet up the pace.

No more than halfway through the pillow fight posing as a slug fest, I was told in no uncertain terms by one audience member, "I'm sleepy. How much longer does this go on?"

I remained stern and referred to the pre-debate form signed by all members of the focus group that they would stay to the end regardless of which side was winning or losing. This was supposed to be, after all, one of the few glimpses we will have into the psyches of the men who would lead our country for the next four years.

But, the group did have a point.

Perhaps it was moderator Jim Lehrer, of PBS, changing the format after both Senators had arrived at their respective podiums. I had expected the traditional format, where a moderator is in charge as a panel of experts who have their own pet peeves and agendas throw unrehearsed inquiries at the candidates, which pretty much guarantees that someone will be off their game at least part of the time.

But Lehrer was alone, and he challenged the participants to go at each other, kind of like a cage fight for political junkies. Obviously neither side was really comfortable with this format, and didn't really get into the spirit.

There were a few moments toward the end when Obama tried to talk over McCain, but McCain held his own and refused to yield. That resulted in a "debate" that actually left us with the archaic talk TV format where talking heads get 45 seconds to yell over each other, leaving viewers with no useful information, and screaming headaches.

Obama came across as crass by trying to do a James Carville imitation on McCain, and it just didn't work. Want to know what the really big buzz was on TV Saturday morning. "Why didn't John McCain look at Barack Obama much?"

Well, for starters, because McCain actually knew Ronald Reagan, along with a host of other Inside-the-Beltway types whose names he dropped all night long, and Reagan was the master of talking to the audience. McCain didn't win or lose anything by not trying to stare down Obama, and he did do well by talking to the audience, which is basically what you are supposed to do in that format.

Debates are supposed to be venues for real exhibitions of political viewpoints, and frankly, I thought it was rude and low-class of Lehrer to keep pushing for fireworks. Jerry Springer's format just doesn't work in national politics.

On the merits of the debate, I give McCain the edge for being far better informed on virtually every point than Obama. Obama came across as stiff, and trying to appear as an intellectual, especially with his pronunciations of PAAAACHisTAAAHN and TAAAALEEBAHN.

God, if I heard that one more time I was going to shut the whole thing down, pre-debate forms or not.

I also didn't like Obama blaming the Wall Street meltdown on President Bush, since that is a flat out lie. Bush was the one guy who was trying to head it off, but was stymied by Congress, including BAAAHrack OBAAAAHMA.

But I also didn't like the fact that McCain let that crap slide without addressing it and slamming Obama for misleading the American public. The very people in Congress who caused this mess have been trying to lay blame on Bush for a week now, and McCain had a national stage to slam dunk them, yet he let it slide. Not very impressive.

McCain made a huge gaffe in the veterans' community during their discussions on us winning in Iraq. He was criticizing Obama for not giving any credit to the military that won there, and until recently refusing to acknowledge that our efforts there had worked.

Yet is was McCain who erred when he said he understood what it was like to come home from the war in Vietnam as part of an "army in defeat."

Earth to McCain. The American armed forces not only won every single battle in the Vietnam War, we drove the communists to the edge of surrender twice. The enormity of our victory is born out by the casualties suffered - 58,000 US deaths, 48,000 from combat, compared to 1.5 million communist troops killed in action.

We wiped their standing army out twice over. We never lost anything.

The reason Southeast Asia fell is because McCain's buddies in the US Congress, abetted by his pal Henry Kissinger, sold out our allies. The enormity of our victories in Vietnam was offset only by the enormity our the betrayal by our own government.

Remember Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, North Vietnam's most famous general? Remember he wrote in his memoirs that if the Christmas bombings of the north in 1972 had continued for a mere two more days, the north was ready to surrender unconditionally?

Giap and the communists were saved by the duplicity of the US State Department headed by Kissinger, and the Congress that passed the Case-Church resolution in June 1973 cutting off all funding to South Vietnam. Two years later the north invaded, and without the guns, bullets and air power to stave them off, the south fell.

American combat forces had been gone for the better part of three years before South Vietnam fell, and it was the south that won a crushing military victory in the spring of 1972 over the communists, before Kissinger and Congress shafted them.

Historical fact, look it up.

Maybe McCain felt defeated when he was released from North Vietnam's Prisoner of War camps in 1973, but if he ever went to a Vietnam Veterans reunion, he'd find that one of the most popular slogans on T-shirts and caps is "We Were Wining When I Left. What Happened?"

Enough said.

I heard during the week that the McCain campaign strategists have set up sessions between Kissinger and Sarah Palin so she will be up to speed on international events in time for her debate with Joe Biden on Oct. 2.

Perhaps McCain's people should stop and remember that Kissinger is a proponent of Realpolitik, which amounts to instant gratification for international power brokers. It means, in essence, screw today's ally if yesterday's enemy suddenly proves more valuable to you.

That thinking was behind the abandonment of Southeast Asia in favor of opening relations with China. See how well that has worked for us?

If Sarah Palin wants to hear about the nature of the world outside the US from people who do the real fighting, instead of sitting in plush offices pushing pins into maps, she is hereby invited to come to Eastern Connecticut.

I can introduce her to some real experts on what is going on in the world and in one afternoon she will be up to speed on international reality, not international political expedience. That's a real invitation. Palin would be warmly received on the east side of the state, where people talk straight and would be happy to help her, rather than getting a headful of nonsense on the west side.

As far as the debates are concerned, I am looking forward to seeing her take on Joe Biden. I hope she is herself, rather than some boxed in overly groomed automaton.

One reason America responded so warmly to Sarah Palin is because she has thus far been the antithesis of the cookie cutter American politician/DC insider. If she remains true to herself she will be true to us, and the Vice Presidential debate could actually be both exciting and informative.

Otherwise, we're left where we were when Bush debated Kerry. Lots of talk, lots of TV and radio, but in the end, barely a one-point change in the polls.

Obama didn't call McCain "Senator" and instead used his first-name all night. McCain didn't look at Obama enough. Wow. Dynamic presentation of the information we need to decide our next leader.

Would everyone who believes in any form of religion please take a moment in the next few days to pray as fervently as possible that Sarah Palin comes to her debate ready to be herself? Please?

Oh, the post-debate polls. They mean nothing. As a demographic, Republicans and conservatives tend to not be home much on Saturday morning. Kids' events, grocery shopping, you known what I mean. We take calls on Sunday night. Ask us then.